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The EeePC 900 Review May 6, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Review.
9 comments

Ok gang, here’s the short and sweet review. (Check the June 2008 issue of Mobile Philippines for the fleshed-out version.)

Almost everything else is the same, except for the following:

  • Larger screen – 8.9″, 1024×600
  • More RAM – 1gb built-in
  • More storage – Windows XP version has a 12gb SSD, Linux has 20gb
  • Better webcam – 1.3 megapixel
  • Mic’s now beside the webcam
  • Speakers were moved to the bottom
  • Bigger touchpad – with FingerGlide multi-touch features
  • Just a hair bigger, thicker and heavier than the 701
  • More vents on the underside
  • Only comes in white and black (for now, but good luck getting black)

Ok. Here’s the good stuff, the stuff I think you’d be most curious to know, in no particular order:

  • Trackpad buttons are a bit hard to press; at least the button is longer in shape, which minimizes zig-when-zagging mistakes
  • As of now, I don’t know where the multi-touch pinching can work – doesn’t seem to work on any of the included apps (still exploring this)
  • Two-finger scrolling is nice, but limited; hey, it’s a short trackpad – it’s not swiiiiiiipe, swiiiiiiipe as with a Mac, but more like swipeswipeswipeswipeswipe
  • No two-finger tapping to replace right clicks (like on Macs); at least I think so. Haven’t found the pref setting for it, anyway. [UPDATE: Found it. It’s buried in the Mouse prefs under Control Panel. And apparently it’s more full-featured than originally thought. The ElanTech pad has all the features and conveniences of the Apple multi-touch trackpad. Good then.]
  • Trackpad size also inadequate for pinch-zooming; your fingers barely have room to move apart before they jam up against the edges of the pad (for me at least; I have big fingers); so like swiping, it’s pinchpinchpinchpinchpinch
  • The productivity app add-ons are…wait for it …Microsoft Works and Star Suite 8 from Sun Micro. Eh?
  • Whenever it starts up Microsoft Works, the app warns you that screen resolution is below Microsoft’s recommended minimum – which is 1024×768. Eh? Didn’t they know that coming in? They could have at least reset the app to the proper setting so we don’t keep getting reminded that the screen is still tiny.
  • Speakers are now on the bottom; loud, but needs room around the base to be heard
  • Screen is beautiful, but not too bright; kinda like the proverbial dumb blonde
  • The microphone is now beside the webcam. Finally.
  • Getting the Linux version is a no-brainer; 20gb is a big deal; you can dump Linux and install Windows later. You got an XP installer around, right? You have any idea how much an 8gb SSD costs these days?
  • Keyboard still sucks. Same one from the 701, save for the markings on the Windows key – it ain’t the little house no more. It’s at least more sturdy and solid.
  • Build quality seems better all around. Seems. Can’t prove it, but it feels like it is.
  • The faux modem hole is gone, rubber cover and all; no sense pretending there’ll ever will be a modem for this thing, after all.
  • Battery life sucks. No numbers yet, but I can tell you it sucks. Bigger screen, more ram, larger SSDs – and then you match those with a weaker battery than the previous (and less-equipped, hence less needy) model? Ex-squeeze me? Baking powder? (I hope this changes with the release version.)
  • The hinge seems abnormally tight; I need two hands to open it up, and with difficulty at that. Then again maybe it’s just this unit.
  • Doesn’t seem to get unreasonably warm. Then again, my old 701 never did too. At least there are more vents on the underside.
  • The included pouch sucks big time; what happened to the sexy, black neoprene? It’s like exchanging black thongs for granny panties.
  • A power brick? Doh! Bring back the cellphone charger!
  • From a plain-vanilla config, boots up in 30 sec. Shuts down in 31. Cool.
  • Response time is about what you’d expect from a capable PC. Not fantastic, but not a slouch either. In fact, it’s a lot better than I expected. But still and all, it’s what you’d expect from Windows XP. No more, no less.
  • Here’s the surprise: that 12gb SSD? It’s two drives – a 4 and an 8! At least that’s what System Information tells me. I think it’s the old built-in 4gb of the 701, plus an extra 8gb SSD in the ol’ extra slot. (Can’t tell because I’m not allowed to open it.) Makes sense from a production standpoint. Old mold, then just stick an extra SSD in. (Now I’m wondering how the 20gb Linux version is configured – a 4gb on-board and a 16gb in the slot?) This is something we don’t see in any of the press releases and company literature. Why do I feel like someone’s cheating? [UPDATE: Apparently this info is in the eeepc.asus.com website already. My guesses were right. Question now is, can we swap SSDs when we want, or are they hard-soldered into the port?]

(more…)

Fry’s electronics February 4, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Review.
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Actor, comedian, writer, performer, all-around genius and little-known ubergeek Stephen Fry has weighed in on the EeePC – and he likes it.

With reservations, of course. And he’s not quite up to the specs (there’s no modem, Stephen! And you can use the webcam for chats – you just need to enable it!) and he bashes it as much as he praises it, but at least it’s an honest and generally favorable take on the Eeep.

Some choice quotes:

I am writing this article on a kind of mini John the Baptist, a system that prepares the way of the software saviour whose coming will deliver the 90% of world computer users who suffer under Windows from the expensive, clumsy, costly, ugly, pricey toils of Microsoft.

The Asus EEE PC perched on my knee combines GNU software with a Linux kernel powered by an Intel Celeron Mobile Processor to produce a very extraordinary little laptop. It weighs less than a kilogram, starts up from cold in about 12 seconds and shuts down in five. It has no internal hard disk and no CD drive. It offers 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a seven-inch display; wireless, dial-out modem and ethernet adaptors are available for networking and internet connections, three USB ports, mini-jack sockets for headphones and microphone, a VGA out, an SD card slot and a built-in webcam. All for about £200 – less than the price of a show, dinner and taxi for two in London’s West End.

 

And:

The EEE is far from perfect: system software claims two-thirds of its meagre 4GB of storage, the keyboard is sub-par, the trackpad worse; it seems a shame to boast a built-in webcam and a full field of IM clients, yet be incapable of videochat; the OS, a customised version of Linux, part Debian, part Asus’s own creation, makes downloading outside the bundled software updater uncertain. But these defects are minor compared with the machine’s astounding value and functionality – and to the future trends in computing it heralds.

Read Fry’s complete Feb. 2 column Dork Talk in The Guardian.

Report Card February 2, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Asus, Ramblings, Review.
3 comments

It’s been a month for me using the EeePC today. Happy Anniversary!

Still top marks. Learned a lot, from a rudimentary grasp of Linux to learning how to hack into the system to get it to do things Asus never meant for you to do. And everything in between.

It’s still a computer worth getting. A month hasn’t dimmed its value or usefulness. If anything, it’s gotten more valuable over the past few weeks.

It still turns heads in public, up to now. The shortage of stock has made it even more desirable, and people are combing the stores for units. Preferably the Galaxy Black version, which is number one with a bullet (although having been up close and personal with a Pearl White, I wouldn’t mind owning one instead).

If you’ve been reading the comments here, you’ll note the quick conversions people have once they see it in action. Windows die-hards, Mac blow-hards, non-geeks, even Luddites. I’ve more than one friend pick one up after seeing mine, and I sometimes get calls from co-workers and friends asking me the precise model and price because they were at the mall hunting one down and didn’t want to make a mistake.

The most heard (and telling) comment? “My phone costs more than that, and I can’t even do a thing with it!”

I often forget that I’m carrying one in my backpack, I’m so used to heavy laptops. I’ve gotten a lot more personal work done on it that I’ve ever been able to do with the MacBook or the Thinkpad, precisely because of the reasons I’ve enumerated on this blog. My brother says he’s never been happier with his purchase, and doesn’t regret buying one at all.

I’m happy because it delivers. What I set out to do with it I did. And I didn’t even need to convert to Windows or anything (which is one of the better perks). I’m walking proof that the open source model works – everything I need I got out of the box or from Synaptics. Well, yeah, some outside of repositories. Let’s not split hairs. But I haven’t needed to purchase anything, and I’m able to do 98% of what I need to.

The niggles are still there, of course. Small screen, small keyboard. Small everything, really. No big hard disk, no optical drive. But you can live without these things, and eventually realize that that’s perfectly all right. That’s the nature of the beast. (As Microsoft likes to say, they’re not bugs, they’re features.) Literally and figuratively, the EeePC is no burden at all. Even if you don’t think you need one, you probably do.

Nearly straight As. One B- for the screen size, which, unlike the keyboard, could be a bit bigger. (Really now, Asus. We know you were keeping the costs down, but I think we wouldn’t have have minded springing a bit more for an additional inch or so of LCD. Things would’ve been so much nicer.)

And a point off for the modem hole.

03:01:45 January 5, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Accessories, Review.
1 comment so far

I did a full-on battery test the other day, to see how long this 4-cell pack would last. I do this for all new gadgets, just because. I’m weird that way.

Most people get about three hours or less on an EeePC. The documentation claims three or more.

I’m of the persuasion that if there is a handy outlet nearby, I always keep it plugged in. That way if I have to work somewhere where there isn’t one, I’d at least be starting out with a full deck. Some friends of mine yank it off the wall juice as soon as it fully charges, and then work from the battery until it needs to be charged again, even if there are outlets aplenty. One of them even reasons out, what’s the point of having a portable machine? They’re supposed to be used on batteries.

I don’t get this logic at all. It isn’t harmful to the battery to keep it on tap as often and as long as you’re within range of a source; some people still believe this myth in this age of lithium ion. And wouldn’t forcing the battery to deliberately expend full cycles as often as possible shorten its life drastically?

So if they’ve been using it on batts at home, and are suddenly called to go out to meet for coffee or something, and that cafe has no nearby outlets, they’d be running on just half a charge or less.

Sorry. Forgive the rant. Back to the battery.

After a full charge (and around three previous full cycles), I ran the machine (in the standard out-of-the-box 701-4G configuration) with brightness at the middle setting, likewise the sound (with speakers on, of course), wifi on, an infra-red dongle in the USB slot for the wireless mouse and an SD card stuck in the memory slot. In other words, how I normally would use it.

So I wrote stuff on OpenOffice, surfed, blogged, checked mail, installed a couple of things, tweaked settings and all the usual stuff.

After giving me a warning at 20% capacity, it finally shut itself off (neatly and properly, I might add) at three hours, one minute and 45 seconds.

About as advertised.

I’m pleased. Even Apple overstates its battery capacities.

Still, I’d get that new 6-cell in a snap.

Before anything, my immediate impressions January 2, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Review.
5 comments

 

  • The keyboard is too tiny.
  • It’s Linux. Who the hell knows Linux?
  • I’m learning Linux.
  • I wish the battery pack had less girth. It’s almost bulbous. At least it props up the back and cools the bottom. (Which is actually a good thing. No one makes a CoolPad that small anyway.)
  • Push the LCD too far back and it becomes top-heavy and falls backward.
  • The trackpad button is flimsy, and hard to press. Takes effort.
  • Flimsy means cheap chromed plastic. Like the Power Button. Ugh.
  • The keyboard is too tiny.
  • Battery life could be better, but three hours isn’t too shabby.
  • There are too way many apps in Synaptic. (And those weird names!)
  • Wish it had firewire. I have a DVD burner that’s firewire.
  • Most stuff I stick into the slots work.
  • There are software equivalents for nearly everything I’m used to.
  • Paradox: it runs like a Mac but feels like Windows.
  • There is no Caps Lock light.
  • My MS-DOS CLI experience helps.
  • “Sudo” sounds like a martial art where you use your intuition’s weight against itself.
  • The screen needs three more square inches.
  • The keyboard is too tiny, but my HAP (hunt-and-peck) typing style helps.
  • No modem. (I hate them, never use them, but I like to know I have the option just in case.)
  • Wish I could enable a 12-hour time format in advanced mode.
  • Why do I have to be online to install anything?
  • The keyboard is too tiny.
  • 4GB solid-state drive. Huh? A DVD-R’s got more space.
  • Why’d they purposely limit RAM to 1GB on the OS level?
  • SDHC cards aren’t as expensive as you’d expect.
  • Why do people insist on installing Win XP on it? I mean, really now.
  • It comes in stupid colors too.
  • I can carry it in a belt bag. (Well, a big one.)
  • It’s incredible that there are cellphones that are way more expensive than this.
  • The keyboard is tiny.